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April 11, 2006

Neanderthals: Hawt or Not?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I love it when the postings-and-commentsfests at GNXP careen almost out of control, don't you? It's a wonderful chance to glimpse what's really on the minds of evo-bio brainiacs. Do Neanderthal genes still stir among us? Why are women and men so different? Is there anything special about blondeness? And -- crucially -- what's the best strategy for getting dates with hot chicks?

Geeks, eh? More highly-evolved than the rest of us? Or just a little puzzled by this whole being-human thing? In any case, my congrats and thanks to Razib and company for sponsoring such a good party.



posted by Michael at April 11, 2006


Gene Expression often has thought-provoking (if sometimes mind-boggling) discussion, but I wish Razib weren't so short-tempered with commentors.

Posted by: Peter on April 11, 2006 7:39 PM

Razib just posted about genes linked to body shape / obesity, but he forgot the mandatory hot girl pictures. My speculation about the global frequency of the hourglass alleles, with said obligatory pictures, here:

Posted by: Agnostic on April 11, 2006 9:04 PM

Since I had a chance to get to the "big city" and nab the April issue of Harpers, I'm in a position to point out the first of the "readings," which is misleadingly identified as "primatology" and entitled "A Natural History of Peace," by Robert Sapolsky, who is a neurology prof at Stanford. is relevant here. Against the allele theorizing and all that other wonderful jargon, this article invokes baboon "culture" (memes, I suppose) about who gets laid and why. The short version is that culture is vulnerable to happenstance and hereditary characteristics in primates are pretty plastic.

Some posts, I notice, betray a yearning for bonobo culture.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on April 11, 2006 9:35 PM

NOVA did a show on the famous Chinese mummies with blond hair:

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 11, 2006 10:31 PM

mike, u welcome.

and peter, the reason the discussions are mind-boggling is that we naturally select against idiots, lazy asses, racialists and PCists. straight up, most people are wasting ASCII characters

Posted by: razib on April 12, 2006 1:57 AM


The "the best strategy for getting dates with hot chicks" is to not be very impressed by them.

It works.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on April 12, 2006 9:17 AM

Interesting gene pool info from the latest NEW CRITERION:

Exhibition notes
By Diana Muir

“Frost: Life and Culture of the Sami Reindeer People of Norway,” on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., is a display of striking photography and startling scholarship. This exhibit comes as Sami (Saami) activists are asserting their right to political autonomy and filing legal claims to large tracts of territory based on indigeneity. The Smithsonian archeologist Noel Broadbent is “helping the Sami people assert their unique identity” with a digging program called “Search for a Past.” His efforts are concretized by a helpful wall map of a purported thirteenth-century “Sami homeland … called Sampi or Samiland, which once occupied most of Norway, Sweden, and Finland,” and which some Sami activists would like to reclaim.
The photos capture a timeless landscape of reindeer husbandry. In one, a lasso catches the sunlight against a gray sky in the instant before it drops around the neck of a reindeer calf; in another, a herd of reindeer is dramatically backlit against a brilliant patch of orange sunset, dwarfed by a sea of white snow and white cloud.
But it is the explanatory panels that stun, authoritatively informing viewers that Sami (you and I grew up calling them “Lapps” and referring to their territory as “Lapland”) “are the indigenous people who live in northern [Scandinavia]… . Mitochondrial DNA identifies the Sami as an early European population, their ancestors migrating to the Nordic region at the end of the last Ice Age almost 10,000 years ago.”
“They … perfected the use of skis … and domesticated reindeer which they raised for meat and milk.”
After viewing a map of the Sami “homeland,” we are informed that “Scandinavian and Finnish settlers pushed the Sami northward into the area known today as Lapland.” We are meant to understand the Sami as indigenous people unjustly pushed out by “settlers,” like the Amerindians or Australian aborigines.
Consider what is actually known.
Scandinavia was repopulated soon after the glaciers melted back about 10,000 years ago, probably by people moving north from the glacial refuge in Iberia. Later, two new groups entered the region. One was expanding from the Black Sea/Caspian region and spoke an Indo-European language. The other came from somewhere near the Urals, speaking a language in the Uralic family. Both arriving groups had technological advantages that enabled them to dominate and replace the cultures and languages of the hunting-and-gathering peoples then occupying Scandinavia.
We date the arrival of agriculture in Scandinavia to 3800 BCE and the Boat Axe culture, an expanding group descended from the Indo-Europeans who first entered Europe around 7000 BCE. We know that their invasion of Scandinavia was not peaceful because of the number of children, women, and men found by archeologists with their skulls bashed in by axes. The Boat Axe conquerors are assumed to have absorbed the pre-existing population, and continuities in the archeological record make clear that they are in some sense ancestors of the Norse. Their use of battle axes does not, however, make the Boat Axe people Norse, any more than the use of skis makes the hunter-gatherers of that era Sami.
The Uralic expansion, which gave rise to the Sami, is less well attested by archeology. Linguists postulate that the Uralic linguistic “homeland” was located in or near the Urals before 4000 BCE. That is a very long time ago, but it post-dates the start of the Indo-European expansion. Uralic-speaking peoples conquered Finland and Lapland in pre-history in sufficient force to complete- ly replace the older language groups.
As for the Smithsonian’s claim that “Mitochondrial DNA identifies … their ancestors migrating to the Nordic region … almost 10,000 years ago,” so what? Norwegians and Swedes can make the same claim. Every European population has mitochondrial DNA dating back to the Ice Age. Just as every European population has genetic material traceable to the Indo-European, Uralic, and subsequent population expansions into Europe.
According to studies published to date, Sami have slightly more “Ice Age” mitochondrial (maternal) DNA than most European populations. What the exhibit leaves out is that even this finding may as easily be the result of a founder effect or population bottlenecks, which amplify differences in gene frequencies among groups that were once similar, as of any ancient ethnic difference between founding populations.
Other studies, equally valid, show that Sami have slightly more DNA markers (called “haplotypes” and found in this case on the Y, or male, chromosome) indicating ancestral migration from the Urals than do most Europeans. The wall panels in the Smithsonian exhibition do not mention these studies, let alone trumpet them as proving that “the Sami are an intrusion into the European population, remnants of an aggressive wave of settlement by Eurasian Uralic-speakers,” although such a statement is no more absurd than to label them “the indigenous people” of Norway, dating back to “the end of the last Ice Age.”
The immemorial Sami practice of herding reindeer portrayed in the photographs dates back only to around 1600, when the Uralic-speaking peoples of northern Scandinavia switched from hunting reindeer to herding them. Skis are vastly older—we have rock drawings of men on skis that are 7,000 years old—but skis were used by the Mesolithic peoples who preceded the Indo-European and Uralic expansions. They were not “perfected” by Sami.
Mitochondrial DNA studies, like the one being hyped in “Frost: Life and Culture of the Sami,” are the new trump cards of ethnic and identity politics. Holding one entitles you to claim the moral high ground of indigeneity.
In Norway and Sweden, however, everybody is indigenous—or nobody is. Both Sami and Scandinavians have been there so long that dragging Ice Age mitochondrial DNA into ethnic politics seems troublingly evocative of racial essentialism. Why the Smithsonian is posting misleading excerpts from genetic studies on its walls in an effort to validate political assertions of indigeneity is an altogether more serious question.
This article originally appeared in
The New Criterion, Volume 24, April 2006, on page 46
Copyright © 2006 The New Criterion |

Posted by: winifer skattebol on April 12, 2006 9:57 AM

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